Marvelous Mints for the Family Garden
Grow peppermint, lemon balm, and catnip
by Lee Walker Warren and Corinna Wood
Imagine a glass of ice-cold peppermint tea on a hot day. Or the cheerful, earthy fragrance of lemon balm when you pinch a leaf as you walk by. Or a playful young cat rolling with ecstasy in the catnip in the nearby herb garden.
Cooling in nature and filled with aromatic oils, plants in the mint family delight us in countless ways. In particular, peppermint, lemon balm and catnip are some of our favorite, easy-to-grow herbs.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
First of all, when transplanting peppermint, make sure to put it in a place where youíre prepared for it to expand, as it spreads aggressively by roots. Our peppermint patch sends out runners several feet beyond its bed, even in the midst of a gravel path (you can also pull it out of those places you donít want it). Planting in an outdoor planter is an option for containing it.
Fresh peppermint leaves can be picked and chewed for an instant hit of flavor or used in recipes that call for mint such as tabouleh (a middle eastern salad) or lamb dishes. Traditionally, peppermint has been used for easing nausea and digestive distress of all kinds as well as the symptoms of cold, fevers, and allergies.
Because it smells good, tastes yummy, and is very safe, itís often used for children. In fact, since Corinnaís son Dylan was a wee toddler, heís harvested fresh peppermint for the family at teatime. At grandmaís house, with the peppermint patch at the edge of the driveway, he would routinely pick a handful of stalks to play with, sniff, and eat, to stave off carsickness on the curvy roads back to their mountain home.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Super easy to grow, lemon balm thrives in the cool season (spring and fall), withstands the heat like a champ, and even tolerates some shade. Red Moon Herbs recently expanded from a few lemon balm plants to a lush bountiful circular bed more than 20 times the size of the original plants. We duplicated the plants from cuttings by taking the top couple of inches off an existing lemon balm plant, stripping the bottom leaves, and keeping these watered in some sandy potting soil. The cuttings soon grew roots and were ready to be planted. In less than a year, we had as much as we could harvest!
Just crushing the leaves of this plant and inhaling deeply will give you, immediately, a sense of its traditional use as a gentle mood elevator. Like many plants with a high amount of volatile oils, itís also been used for headaches, circulation, stomach distress, and fevers.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
As the name implies, cats love this plant as it contains a constituent that causes them temporary euphoria! Not euphoria producing in humans, it is nonetheless a lovely plant to include in the home garden for beauty and function. As easy to grow as the others, we usually start them from transplants. Catnip is a pleasant and relaxing tea for stomach upsets or just winding down before bedtime. As you plant your garden, note that catnip crosses with lemon balm, so itís best to keep them separate.
Lee Walker Warren and Corinna Wood both live in a Cohousing Neighborhood at Earthaven Ecovillage. Corinna is the Director of Red Moon Herbs, making herbal medicines from fresh, local plants, with a focus on women's health, since 1994. Lee is an herbalist, writer, and manager of a pasture-based, cooperative farm. Together they co-organize the Southeast Womenís Herbal Conference, an annual event taking place this year on October 14-16 in Black Mountain, NC. To learn about the Conference, visit www.sewisewomen.com or call 877-739-6636.
Paperback by Juliette de Bairacli Levy.
This jewel-like memoir by noted herbalist and traveler Juliette de Bairacli Levy details her personal struggle against typhus fever, during which she gave birth to her second child, Luz, who had to be suckled by a nanny goat. As ever we are embraced by Juliette’s love of nature and animals, and welcomed onlookers as she relates with people whose lives are far different from ours.
Juliette shares with us the herbal lore she learned and used in the Spanish Sierra Nevada mountains. You’ll find herbs to combat vermin, counter burns, keep your skin beautiful, and many more.
Susun Weed. Women’s Herbal Conference 2007.
Great information on Cronewort (mugwort), the old woman's friend. Motherwort, every stressed woman's allly. And Maidenwort (chickweed), dissolver of cysts and delight of many. 80 minutes.
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